Thursday, January 15, 2009

Law & Order “By Perjury” No Lie, It’s Excellent (Recap & Review)

Law & Order continues to surprise me. It seems to be getting better with each passing week. This episode, “By Perjury” was excellent, with only one glaring flaw. The story was fantastic, even though it seemed obvious early on how some of it would play out. What made it work so well was the tension between the key players, with Lupo’s law studies causing a case to be botched, and Cutter’s frustrations with him rising to the surface. As always, Connie is the great equalizer, managing to get everyone to calm down. And so as not to spoil it too much for anyone who hasn’t seen the show, let me just say that Lupo seems to have buried the hatchet at the end when he and Bernard help to save Cutter from a tragic fate in that surprise ending.

The series is also establishing Linus Roache as the central character in the second half of the show, and I like it. Sure, I will always remain a huge Sam Waterston fan. And while Sam is getting lot less screen time than normal, they still make his appearances meaningful and important to the story. But I feel very comfortable with the character of Michael Cutter and Linus Roache, a lot more so than I did than in his first appearances on the show.

It also seems clear that they are establishing Bernard and Rubirosa as the cooler heads in their working partnerships. One or both of them are always trying to get Cutter or Lupo to settle down. And Connie is always the one who seems to find the angle than saves the day. Alana De La Garza continues to command more respect in her role, and Rubirosa is a much more confident character than in her first season as well.

But at the end of the day, while the team has their disagreements, they all know they have a job to do and they support each other in doing so, even to the point of protecting each other’s life.

Dallas Roberts helped make the character of Winston seem absolutely loathsome, by the way.

OK, the glaring flaw. It was Judge Lloyd, played by Mercedes Ruehl. Just exactly what kind of accent was that supposed to be? I swear it came and went and sometimes changed. Regardless, it was awful and forced. Sometime she sounded like she was a little drunk. It just did not play very well with me and while I think she is a very capable actor, the way she played this role was a poor fit. If the story wasn’t as good as it was, this could have been a big turn off for the entire show.

And, I just have to say this. Does anyone really believe Cutter would have said “wee wee” instead of some other euphemism or formal term? I just laughed at that. I hope if/when the show makes the move to an earlier time slot we won’t get more of these childish terms.

Here’s the recap:

Charlie Sawyer (Adam Mastrelli), is eating pie at a diner. Later, he’s found shot to death in his car clutching an oxygen canister. Detectives Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) and Bernard (Anthony Anderson) find there are two 9mm shells there, one shot is to the head. There are three shots in all, but only two shells. Charlie’s divorce papers are also there – unsigned. Lupo sighs, “the divorce is final now.”

The detectives talk to Charlie’s wife, who says Charlie has had the divorce papers for three weeks, and he called her yesterday and said he needed her to sign the papers right away. She said his contracting business was having problems and he had to borrow money from “some people.”

Later at Sawyer Contracting, the detectives find some men fighting. Some are trying to repossess equipment to get paid back for the money they loaned to Charlie. Charlie’s partner tells them they had an appointment yesterday to bid on a job and Charlie blew it off. He offers no information about Charlie's death.

Back at the 2-7, Lt. Van Buren (S. Epatha Merkerson) wonders if the story that Charlie was coming into some money is just a story. Raspberry pie was found in Charlie’s stomach contents. She suggests they look at Charlie's cell phone records. They see calls to two law firms, neither of which was handling the divorce. The last call came in 11 minutes before he was shot, from a phone booth two blocks from the crime scene. There is a diner across the street. Talking with the waitress, she said he was very “flush” and happy, maybe from sucking on the oxygen tank next to him. She said he commented that he was going to stick it to the guy who was sticking it to him. He was waiting for someone and he got a call and then he left.

The detectives go to the first law firm (Tang & Butler) that Charlie called. They find Charlie and his mother was part of a class action suit against an airline company, Pan World Airlines. It was about a crash 7 years ago, flight 33 from Miami. The lawyer on the case said the original judge on the case was killed two years ago, which delayed the case. Charlie called the attorney out of the blue and told him that he had important evidence that could help the airline win the case and maybe to cut a deal for himself. He told Charlie it was improper for him to speak to Charlie without the permission of his lawyer.

The detectives speak with the other lawyer, Martin Winston (Dallas Roberts) who said Charlie called every week to find out when he was going to get money from the class action suit. Winston says he didn't know anything about evidence that Charlie had already mentioned to the other law firm. He indicates that conspiracy nuts have gotten involved in the case as well.

At the apartment of Peter Belander, Lupo and Bernard asks him if he knows Charlie. He knows of him. The families say Belanger is harassing them, and he says they are harassing him. He says Charlie was posting anonymous things about him on his blog, and Lupo wonders if it was anonymous, how did he know it was Charlie? He says he keeps records of every IP address of comments, and finds Charlie posted some things the day he was shot. He gives them the log and says he will call his lawyer. The find that the computer Charlie was using was located at his parent’s home in Henryville. They decide to check out the home of his mother there, Bernadette Sawyer. When they arrive at the house, a for sale sign is up and there had been a fire there. Bernard says “looks like Charlie’s good news blew up on him.”

Later, when questioning someone from the fire department, he tells them the fire happened last Monday and was caused when oxygen tanks that Charlie's mom used for her emphysema exploded. The detectives speculate that oxygen tanks exploded in the plane, and that one was likely in his mother’s luggage - or they assume Charlie thought that they did and that’s what he wanted to tell the lawyers in the class action suit. Charlie may have been looking for a payoff, putting the other plaintiffs out of the money.

The go back to Charlie’s lawyer and ask for his alibi at the time of Charlie’s murder since he had a financial stake in the case. He was at home, and he lives alone.

Bernard also gets a message saying Winston had an arrest in Henryville on Wednesday, and the disposition was sealed. Going to Monroe County Municipal Building, Sheriff Bainbridge tells them they need an unsealing order from the county judge. They decide to talk to a female police officer that Bainbridge has just been yelling at. Flirting, Lupo admires her patrol car. Lupo gives her his number and tells her he can take her out to a place where a mobster had been killed, and she asks if she can bring her husband along. Bernard says sure – “we’re not jealous.” As they go to walk away, she calls out to them and helps them with information about Martin Winston's arrest. The deputies has responded to a prowler call at Bernadette Sawyer’s house and arrested Winston for criminal trespass. The sheriff voided the arrest after finding Winston was the Sawyer’s attorney. Lupo also sees an entry on her screen for a Black Lexus, a vehicle Winston was driving, which was registered to a James Hewitt.

At Hewitt’s apartment, he says Winston did not have permission to drive his car. They check out the vehicle when Hewitt says one of the wipers isn’t working, they find the missing 9mm shell casing is jamming it. Later, they arrest Winston on the courthouse steps.

At arraignment, Winston enters a plea of not guilty and says he will represent himself. When the judge hears he is working on the case from Flight 33, she sets bail at $1 million. He says it won't be a problem, and then asks for a gag order and a closed court so that his case won't be affected. ADA Rubirosa (Alana De La Garza) argues this is against the first and sixth amendments. The judge thinks Winston has a better point and grants his motion.

Later in EADA Cutter’s (Linus Roache) conference room, Winston asks Cutter and Rubirosa for financial disclosure affidavits for each of them. If they own stock in Pan World Airlines it would be a conflict of interest. Cutter jabs at Winston, asking if he is laying the foundation for an ineffective assistance of counsel. They continue to jab back and forth. Cutter says considering the evidence they have on him, Winston should “stop strutting and start dealing.” He then gives them a motion to suppress the evidence.

At Supreme Court, Lupo is testifying on how they obtained Winston’s arrest information. He said Deputy Ryan overheard their discussion with the Sheriff and offered the information, which gave them information about his neighbor’s car that led to the bullet. They did not ask or suggest that she do it. At cross, Winston asks if Lupo was aware the deputy didn’t have the authority to give him the information. He said he didn’t know it for fact and acted in good faith and thought the suspect would flee. He calls Lupo on his use of legal terms, and Lupo admits he is a law student. As Winston questions Lupo on law details, Cutter objects, saying that this isn’t a bar exam. Judge Lloyd (Mercedes Ruehl) stops Winston and excuses Lupo. Cutter argues inevitable discovery, but Winston says it is illegal behavior. She grants Winston’s motion to suppress the car and the shell casing. Winston moves for a dismissal, and Cutter objects. She asks if Cutter has any admissible evidence, but as a dismissal for insufficient evidence triggers double jeopardy, and he begs for more time. The judge tells Winston he’s gotten “obscenely lucky” but not to get greedy. She gives Cutter three days, and if he can’t do it by then she will dismiss the charges – with prejudice.

Later, Cutter, Rubirosa, Lupo, and Bernard review their options for more evidence. There is an FBI file on Winston, he was vetted when he was a prosecution witness in the murder of the first judge on the panel for the case. As Lupo and Bernard leaves, Cutter tells Lupo the next time he is on the stand, try not to play lawyer. “you’re not that good.” Lupo gets upset, and approaching Cutter says, “What? What did you say to me?” Cutter answers, “You heard me.” Lupo adds, “Maybe a real lawyer wouldn’t have let me flap in the wind while I was being cross examined. Maybe a real lawyer would have shut Winston down!” Bernard moves in to break them up, but Cutter goes on, telling Lupo that his actions put the case in the crapper. Rubirosa chides Mike and he stops. Bernard gets “Lupes” to leave. After they leave, Rubirosa tells Cutter the murdered judge’s case was tried in Federal Court, and one of Winston’s clients was convicted of the crime. Winston was the main witness against him – testifying against his own client. Two murders have come from the Pan World case and Winston has a “starring role” in both of them. She doesn’t think this is a coincidence, but Cutter is distracted by having to be in the judge’s chambers. He says if she thinks of something brilliant to say to text him, and he walks out.

Judge Lloyd voices her disappointment with Cutter’s office. He asks he if she must dismiss to do it without prejudice. She dismisses the case, with prejudice. Winston asks for the record to be sealed and a permanent gag order places on the DA. Cutter is outraged and he and Winston continue to spar. When Winston threatens Cutter with defamation, the judge shuts them down and fines them $1,000 each for contempt. She grants Winston’s request to have the record sealed.

In the offices of the U.S. Attorney Mr. Tyler, Rubirosa confers with the lawyer for the defendant in the murder of the first judge – Judge Davis - from the Flight 33 case. Winston thought he would soften up if the grieving family showed up in court. Davis threatened to toss the case on summary judgment, and two nights later, one of the plaintiffs, Victor Cruz shot him in the doorway of his brownstone. The only evidence against Cruz was a cigarette butt with his DNA, found in the judge’s doorway. Cruz’s own lawyer – Marty Winston - testified that Cruz threatened to kill the judge. When Rubirosa says she’s like to talk to Cruz, she is told he is dead – executed for the murder 6 months ago.

Back in Cutter’s office, Rubirosa tells him Cruz swore he was framed, that someone set up a fake job interview in the area and planted the cigarette butt.

DA Jack Mc Coy (Sam Waterston) knocks on the door, and asks Rubirosa to excuse them and she exits. McCoy asks Cutter if he is getting enough sleep, reaming out police officers, screeching at opposing counsel, and a contempt citation. Cutter says, “ You want a diplomat? Look elsewhere.” Jack says they are not getting results. McCoy asks Cutter to tell him what he needs – a day off, a lighter caseload? He can’t have Cutter flying off the handle. Cutter says he got the message and thanks McCoy. He says Winston is the adversarial system gone haywire – even if you have to kill, win at all costs. McCoy states dryly, “Sounds like somebody’ evil twin.” Cutter says Winston has gotten away with three murders, the judge, the executed man, and Sawyer. McCoy tears up the papers he came in with, says he has work to do, and leaves.

Later, at the gravesite of Victor Cruz, Cutter and Rubirosa talk with his wife, and she says he did not kill that judge. She said Victor was angry with the judge but said they had to trust Winston to get justice from the airlines. When asked about the cigarette butt, she said she made him quit smoking but he only did it occasionally. She said Winston let him smoke in his office, maybe someone took the butt there? She said Winston treated them like family and every year he sent them $100.

Cutter and Rubirosa go back to the US Attorney Mr. Tyler, who tells them there was nothing to the frame up allegation. They point out that Winston had more to gain that anyone else in that murder. Tyler tells him to play it out - they already executed someone for the crime and now Cutter wants to execute someone else for it. He makes it sound like Cutter wants to make his beating in court Tyler’s problem.

Later, outside, Cutter tells Rubirosa that anyone who stands between Winston and his payday gets killed. Rubirosa agrees but says it is over. Cutter walks over to an outside vendor and asks Rubirosa, “If I smoked, what would I smoke? ” and grabs a pack of cigarettes.

Later, in Winston’s office walking down a hallway with Winston, Cutter moans that he has to pay his own contempt fine. He adds he wrote a letter apologizing to the judge and thought it would be more effective if it came from both of them. Winston agrees and signs it. Cutter says, “I got my wee wee slapped pretty hard for botching your case. “ Winston blames the "dumb cops". Cutter pulls out a pack of cigarettes and asks for permission to smoke and Winston lets him. Cutter talks about trying to quit. They talk the airline case. Winston says he plans on moving into the Woolworth building after it is all done.

Back in McCoy’s office, McCoy questions Cutters approach , arresting Winston for code violations. Cutter explains that in Cruz’s trial, Winston said he doesn’t allow anyone to smoke in his office – ever. It’s perjury – in the Victor Cruz case. His false testimony got Cruz executed. “Murder by perjury?” McCoy asks, incredulous. There is no case law on it, though, and Cutter wants to go for it. McCoy likes it – it’s never been done before, adding “All the more reason to try it! If we can’t find new ways to protect people from murderers, what the hell are we doing in this job? “

At the Federal Courthouse, Lupo and Bernard walk into the airline trial in progress with an arrest warrant for Winston. The warrant is given to the judge who looks at it, and tells the detectives to do their job, and they arrest him.

Outside walking with McCoy and Cutter, Winston’s lawyer Mr. Phillips (Ned Eisenberg) is stunned at the “murder by perjury” approach. McCoy says there is nothing wrong with creative lawyering to lock up a murderer. The attorney says he is moving to dismiss the case. Cutter tells him to do a good job or Winston may kill him too.

Later in Supreme Court, Phillips argues his case for dismissal. Cutter says his perjury was a reckless act. Cutter thinks Winston knew his lies would result in Cruz’s conviction with the death penalty. Phillips argues this assumes the jurors based their conviction on Winston’s testimony as a key factor, and the judge says they will find out if his assumption is right.

At a later time, a juror is being questioned on the stand, and says that Winston’s testimony was crucial and found Winston was credible as he seemed to care for his client. Judge Lloyd asks the juror to clarify that if Winston said he allowed Cruz to smoke in his office they would not have found Cruz guilty, and Winston objects. Phillips tries to get him to settle down. The juror admits that this would have given them reasonable doubt. Cruz’s wife cries in the gallery. The judge rules that the people can make a viable case, and denies Winston’s motion to dismiss. Cutter asks for his bail to be revoked and that he be remanded. She allows him to remain out on bail. Afterwards, Winston tells Cutter he is not a good enough lawyer to pull it off. He says Pan World is ready to make an offer and he will have the check cashed before this even goes to trial. Cutter says, “Don’t be so sure. Miss Rubirosa is filing a complaint with the grievance committee as we speak. We’re seeking to have you removed immediately from the Pan World litigation.” Winston argues Cutter had no standing, but Cutter gleefully says Victor Cruz’ wife does.

In the hearing room for the grievance committee, the committee states that the evidence supports and indictment against Winston for the murder of Charles Sawyer and they find reasonable cause to believe he perjured himself to frame one of his own clients, and they now suspect him of the murder of Judge Davis. Whether he is guilty or not is for a court to decide. Convicted or not, he manipulated the legal system with lies and apparently murders. As he took the Pan World case on contingency, there was never a payment guarantee. He is very upset. The committee rules that he is disqualified from representing the case and will be denied any compensation from outcome of the case. He says this is a sham, saying they can’t do it an it is not fair. He points to Cutter, Rubirosa, Lupo and Bernard and says “Shame, shame on all of you!”

Outside, Winston has waited for Cutter. Winston asks Cutter if he is happy now that Winston won’t get his money. Cutter tells him not to worry about his money, he will send him $100 on his birthday that he can use in the prison canteen. As Cutter walks away, Winston follows him, and Lupo and Bernard take note and follow as well. While Cutter is in the bathroom at the urinal, Winston walks in, saying Pan World was his whole life. When Cutter says they can talk outside, Winston pulls a gun on him and says “Talk to this.” Cutter pulls back in horror, as Lupo and Bernard barge in, Lupo grabbing the gun and Bernard helping to subdue Winston. Cutter thanks Lupo and Cutter zips up, his "wee wee" intact. Lupo moves to get Cutter out of there, while Bernard cuffs Winston.

Later in McCoy’s office, he tells Cutter the matter would have made for some pretty ignoble crime scene photos – another reason to be grateful to Lupo and Bernard. As he sits on the couch with McCoy, Cutter picks up a glass of the alcoholic beverage du jour, and toasts, ‘Here’s to earnest civil servants. “ McCoy clicks Cutter’s glass and they drink together as we fade to black.

By Perjury - Clip

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The Invisible Observer said...

I think that this episode is one of this season's best so far. I am glad that I wasn't the only one who noticed the judge's accent. I absolutely love your blog and recaps!

l&ofan said...

This episode had huge logical holes and character inconsistencies. E.g., didn't Cutter tell Connie in "Strike" that she needed to make amends with Bernard, and then he goes and insults Lupo? Nevertheless, it was great to watch because the focus was on Cutter most of the second half. Linus Roache is a god! He's the reason I'm back to being a regular viewer again. I have to wonder, tho, if the writers are setting up Cutter to exit the show. He didn't perform well in the courtroom--Lupo was right on that score--and looked terrible (granted, Linus Roache can never look THAT terrible) in some scenes, with dark circles, etc. Jack asked him what was wrong and he didn't answer. Hmmm, did Cutter take up with Sweetie's agent? That episode was kind of open-ended. Stranger things have happened. Thanks for the blog -- love the clips with Cutter the most, naturally!

Unknown said...

I was just reading that NBC still hasn't decided what to do with the 10pm shows...

The network hasn't decided whether its current 10 o'clock shows will move to 9 p.m. or shift to the NBC-owned cable channel, USA Network, as happened in 2007 with "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," according to Pilot.

Dick Wolf, creator of the "Law & Order" series, wasn't available for comment, spokeswoman Pam Golum said.

Anonymous said...

I loved this episode! Cutter is so good; he's the reason I tune in every week. I really enjoy your blog too! I agree with you about the judge--her lips and her accent were just yuck! Thanks for posting all the clips and the insightful recaps.

Anonymous said...

I, too, was totally baffled by the judge's accent: she sounded like a drunk Southerner woken up by a prank caller in the middle of the night... yet I loved it! I built up this whole backstory in my head about how she was originally from Louisiana and had moved to New York to study the law and... well, that was as far as I got. I didn't even realize it was Mercedes Ruehl until some Googling brought me here.

Anonymous said...

Her accent wasn't that much weirder than Fred Thompson as District Attorney Branch who sat before Jack McCoy did. I don't know much about accents; if you're from the deep South but move to New York and live and work there for X amount of years, shouldn't your accent diminish or change in some way?

Ninja said...

didn't anyone but me notice that the actor Dallas Roberts who played Winston had a creepy resemblance in look and mannerism to John Ritter? No one?

Oh the judge's accent? speech impediment is what is sounded like to me.

Author R. D. Trimble said...

Hi there,

I love your site, it is so insightful. This is really one of my favorite episodes. One area I had a problem with is the guy who was executed for killing the judge. Really? I mean how often is a death penalty carried out so quickly? These seemed more of a plot device to advance the story as we all know that death penalty advocates complain the problem with it is that it is sentenced and then takes as long as decades to carry out, but here it was carried out rapidly, supposedly because he killed a judge? The sentiment I guess diminishes the lack of realism, but seriously, the controversy would've kept him alive longer - plus really? Like Cutter, Rubirosa, and McCoy would not have been familiar with this guy killing a judge? They were DAs, they would've been much more knowledgable and not have been surprised about him being executed - this kind of turned me off a bit, but overall the episode is pretty good.

Liz said...

OMG, I'm so glad someone else noticed Mercedes Ruhl's odd twangy-accent! The actress herself is not from the south, as Fred Thompson was-so I don't know what the director had in mind here. Dallas Roberts, as usual, was fantastically unlikeable and believable. I laughed aloud at your comment that Cutter used the words "wee wee" was not the term that I would envision him saying ever to anyone, but hey..'twas funny. Well-written and as always..from the very beginning the intro sucks us in. The waitress' accent-pure and legit NY. Well-done!